12 September 2009


I like reading tough guy, and gal, books as well as the next person. I write some of my own scenes in which people beat people up, get beat up, shoot people, etc. But I do not attempt to pretend that I’m a tough guy myself. Too many of my fellow genre – crime – writers, however, do. And I’m getting really bored with it.

I once spent an hour photographing Norman Mailer, the king of all faux-macho, posturing, bellicose cretins. He wasn’t a real tough guy. He was an asshole. I know some writers who aspire to be like him. They ought to reconsider.

There is nothing cool about barfights.
Anyone who thinks there is, has either never been in one, or had their brains knocked loose of their moorings in the ones they have been in.

When I lived in Boise, Idaho during my first year of college, I knew a cowboy. Really, that’s what he was; he herded cows on horseback for a living. He was a little guy, no more than five foot seven or eight and weedy. For reasons having to do with his girlfriend, I’d see him mostly on Sundays, when he was all beat up. He’d sport black eyes, usually two at a time, a wide variety of bruises, aches and pains, lumps on his head. He’d limp and walk like he was being poked with needles that would dig further into him whenever he’d move.

He’d go out to roughneck bars on Saturday nights and get into fights that he knew he was going to lose. More often than not he’d get into fights with his friends, hoping they might go a little easier on him than a stranger would. They didn’t, near as I could tell.

Why? Because he needed the work. And to get the work he needed to prove he was a “man.” And men, real men, get drunk and beat each other up in bars on Saturday nights. At least they did in his world. I could go into how it’s undoubtedly something to do with repressed homoeroticism. But there’s really no need to analyze it beyond the fact that it was stupid. Just plain stupid.

When I was in Lisbon, Portugal in late 1974, during the revolution, I used to hang out in a seedy bar, the Bar Texas, down by the docks. One night I was buying drinks for a hooker from Angola who spoke good English. She was drunk enough to be telling me her life story and I was just sober enough to follow it.

A guy walking by took umbrage at something someone nearby said. He smashed his almost-empty beer bottle on our table and went after that someone at the next table with the broken glass. That person pulled a knife. They cut each other up pretty bad. Blood was flying everywhere. My hooker friend pulled her own knife and I dove under our table. A lot of the people in the bar got into it. Mostly I remember watching people’s feet and legs and hearing more breaking glass and curses and screams and the sounds of people getting hurt. It was terrifying.

Finally things calmed down. Everyone had hurt who they were going to hurt, at least for the time being. My hooker friend reached down to me with a bloody hand, pulled me up and led me out of there before the police came. On the way out of the bar we passed people laid out on the floor, across tables, bloody, moaning, holding their stomachs and their heads. There was nothing the least bit pretty, sexy, romantic or anything else good about it. I took my friend to a clinic to get bandaged up.

There is nothing cool about guns, either. People who really know guns, who need to use them to protect themselves or others, or to put food on the table, respect them as a workman respects his tools. They don’t fetishize them. They don’t think they’re exciting or sexy or fun or anything more than a simple grim necessity.

I've known my share of cops and soldiers and a few spies. Not one of them, who's any good at what they do, is what you'd call a "gun nut." They take it too seriously for that. They really are tough guys (and gals.) They don't need to pretend like they are, or to show off about it. And every single one of them would rather talk their way out of a fight then throw a punch or pull a gun.

When they go to a shooting range it's to hone their skills, it’s not to party. They might enjoy it, like anyone would enjoy practicing something that they’re good at. But that’s not really the point. It’s part of the job. It’s not a hobby.

The fact of the matter is that far too many people who don’t take them seriously, who think they are toys or some sort of miracle cure for crime, or if you want to get analytical - are worried about the size of their dicks - own guns. My neighbors own guns and I am certain that they don’t have the slightest idea what to do with them. They are far more likely to shoot each other, or an innocent bystander, than they are to hold off a criminal.

So I’ve got a plea to all those pretend cowboys and tough guys (and gals): cut the crap, will ya? Write about it all you want and I’ll enjoy reading, at least some of, it. But you don’t have to act like you live it. Not unless you want to admit you have no imagination


Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

My dad once told me a story about being in a bar fight. He was minding his own business, having a beer when a fight broke out. Someone tossed a guy across his table just after he picked up his beer. He didn't spill a drop. When the table was swept clean of said guy, he put his beer back on the table.

My dad grew up in Minto, New Brunswick, a mining town. He has lots of tough guy stories, some true, and some not so much. He still cruises across the world, working in places like Algeria, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Russia, leaving chaos in his wake. Sometimes I joke that he's really a spy.

Today is his 73rd birthday.

A.H. Ream said...

Is there room for misogyny and misandry on the list?

Loretta Ross said...

Happy Birthday to Sandra's dad!

I agree with you, Eric. The more someone boasts about having a gun, the more nervous I am about them having it!

Your post made me think of something not quite related, though, regarding writing from the imagination. I've been considering a plot for a murder mystery that involves race relations and I've mentioned it to a couple of people. I keep getting, "but you're a white woman! How can you write about a black man? You don't know anything about that!"

But no one's EVER said, "how can you write about a murderer? You don't know anything about that!"

So . . . do they think I kill people? :-/

Eric said...


Do you kill people? Well, that's okay, so do I. In my imagination, which is one of the things we writers use our imagainations for.

The book I am currently working on has multiple points of view, one of which is a young black woman in 1947. I am definitely not a young black woman in 1947. The only concession I plan to make to that is to have a black woman friend of mine read the manuscript when I'm done and tell me whether or not I've done anything really stupid, unlikely or too stereotyped. But I want that sort of criticism from all my readers for all my books no matter who I'm writing about.

And Sandra - Happy Birthday also to your dad. He sounds great.

Loretta Ross said...

Eric, once one of my sisters REALLY annoyed me, so I named a Roller Coaster Tycoon character after her and drowned it. Does that count? It was definitely malice aforethought. I had to build a moat to drown it in. And then I put a swinging boat ride in the moat and named it the "Dead Dorothy". *G*

Speaking of multiple POV stories, can I ask you a question? My book started out with multiple POVs, but the first few editors it went out to rejected it for that reason so, on Janet's advice, I'm taking it down to two main characters. The original format, though, is one I've seen a hundred times in other books. My question is, do you feel that after you've sold a book, or a few books, that you're given more leeway?

I'm not bitching (much). I think this version will wind up stronger, but I do wonder if it would have been an issue if I was an established author.

Eric said...


I do think that the more books you've published, the more leeway you're given. Sort of a Catch-22, like the one that says it's easier to get a second book published than a first. (Then again, if your first book does horribly, that might bring down the curtain on your second. So that might be wrong.) But that's just my gut feeling. I don't know.

I still don't know how Janet's going to feel about my new book. There are two main POVs, one almost main POV and then pretty much every other character I introduce in the book gets to have their own moments with a POV. And worse yet, it all takes place over one night.

So, we'll see. My attitude has always been to write the book I want to write, listen to people's opinions about the draft, take some of what they say into consideration, ignore other advice, and send it out and see what happens. I do think it's possible to write a book with its market in mind, but I don't think that tends to make for very good books.

Loretta Ross said...

You're pretty much saying what I suspected. Thanks for answering my question! :)

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